Stand up comedy is a very interesting art form in that to the casual observer it appears anybody can do it. You’re a human with a microphone, talk for 30 minutes and you move on. However as we’ve all learned in life if it’s too good to be true then it probably is and stand up is no exception. There is nothing funny about the funny business and comic after comic will tell you it’s a grueling journey that only the strong survive. However like a soldier going to war, the ties that bind are the ones that help you make it or break it. Friends, networking and an innate sense of human nature around relationships (both professional and social) are what keeps most of us in it for the long haul. We grow together, we cry together, and ironically, we laugh together.
Comedians tend to grow up in classes similar to your batch mates in college or high school that you make your way through life’s milestones with. The group of comics who you started performing with, from dingy little coffee shops to those better shows at bars and ultimately paid shows are the ones you become close with. Your pain and constant effort to improve becomes the shared experiences your working group of comics will never forget. You slowly start to depend on each other as writing buddies, you hang out and bond over those long hours before a set, and when it’s all said and done you dissect the game plan on what worked and what didn’t over a few cold ones. Most importantly if you spend enough time with someone you start to trust them. You trust if they hear about a good show they will refer you and vice versa. You trust if they perform before you or you before them, you will do a good job warming up the crowd and be grateful for the opportunity they’re extending your way hopefully to return the favor in the future. Quid pro quo which exists amongst our friends in their more traditional professional service jobs is also an unwritten rule in comedy. Just like your old college flatmate may help you get that dream job at Google or Facebook, the comic generally never forgets their pals while moving up the ranks.
One of the misconceptions that occasionally occurs in the stand up world and also contributes to people giving it a try and then quitting is that they aren’t part of the “cool” crowd. They come from nowhere to an open mic, wait a few hours, tell a few jokes that don’t go so well, and then disappear never to be seen on stage again. These people then think nobody laughed at them because they weren’t pals with the host or some other childish but understandable reason, get discouraged and move on. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately?) this is far from reality. As a host of several events myself this is the last thing on the host or organizer’s mind. He or she is simply providing a platform for his or herself and others and is trying to move a quality show onwards while giving everybody a fair shake. We’re all vulnerable and far from apathetic, and the kid who that person may have seen us being chummy with could have been the same person that got boo’ed off the stage a year earlier. It’s just that these people continue to show up, put in an effort, and like a coworker that grows on you over the months and years, this new performer starts to become a part of the struggling family. They’re so many comics I’ve seen grow up who used to annoy me all the time, but I can’t help but want to help them when they keep showing up to put in the work. The best advice I’ve heard given to any performer is simply “show Up.” You never know who will cancel, or be late with traffic, or need help with something and how that inconvenience could be a blessing in disguise for you. We’ve all been beginners and remembering that on a daily basis from the fresh faces that show up, the last thing we intentionally do (at least most of us) is hinder an aspiring beginner from even getting started. It’s just too much work to be a dick to someone on purpose. So stop being insecure and just keep your head down and do your shit.
While the majority of comedians operate in the manner above, you do also meet people in this industry who may be polar opposites. They see other performers and those in the business of comedy as mere stepping stones. These people pay lip service to get a show or two in the beginning but in the end it may simply about them and what they do, and they would be damned about making lasting friendships in their chosen creative profession. Some want to be famous actors, some want to do youTube, others just want to get laid. Whatever it is, it doesn’t affect you and your journey, so again, suck it up. (This is probably true of life in general). While I’d love to say karma has a way of course correcting these selfish folk it’s not a guarantee and I’ve learned shouldn’t really be something on your bucket list.
Finally, as you get older in your comedy journey the phrase it’s not who you know but what you know becomes a little less relevant. Luckily for the comic, no matter who you know, ultimately the judge of your worth will come from the audience who in the beginning cares entirely about the opposite. They judge you on what you say while on the stage and how they feel about it. But the chance to make it on the stage first is where relationships in comedy gain such significance why it was worth talking about here.
Aside from the most significant relationship between yourself and your comedic colleagues, they’re a multiple of others. In the comedy ecosystem, there are various relationships that any comic, from seasoned professional, to superstar to beginner will all agree they know.
Relationships exist between artist and artist, mentor and artist, promoter, venue, press and so on. We’ll hit those in another article.